Gender: social personas vs personal identity

[Originally written c.2014 – & no I have no idea what I had read on the internet that had irked me so]

I’m afraid I’d quite like to make a long-winded ramble/rant.

…I know its been said before, and far more eloquently, but I believe its a point that can’t be made too often and I do keep reading things on the net that seem to miss the point.

Social gender is the convention used to differentiate individuals according to their clothing, demeanour, recreational preferences and role – it is broadly aligned to biological differences but the details are culturally and historically contingent (the simplistic examples being that Ancient Greek men thought trousers were feminine, pink has been considered a masculine colour and a number of societies do not use a binary system).
I believe it is important to recognise that the existence (and mutation) of social gender roles seems to be universal, and that it allows a convenient short-hand that can help distinguish people and teach children about personalities and social roles but also that it can be destructive, restrictive and inaccurate.
By contrast personal identity is the clothing, demeanour, recreational preferences and role adopted at any given time by an individual. It also encompasses the labels that individual applies to themself, including the gender they assign (or disclude or invent)  to/for themself -regardless of their apparent physical or genetic make-up or their adoption of local social customs for their chosen gender [also true for sexual/romantic orientation etc etc]. It also covers the kind of body that person feels is appropriate to them, from something as simple as whether they have tattoos to as fraught as whether they change their genitals and everything it between including weight. Broadly speaking personal identity when it comes to ones actions should not (though often is) be denied by any other individual or society.
[We do make exceptions (in terms of rejecting identity claims) for people complaining of discrimination based on a racial/cultural identity they either have no biological connection to or no evidence of a social connection/commitment to (e.g. adoption by or long-term integration within) and I forsee trouble in terms of biological essentialism in this area for gender… We also tend to make exceptions based on whether actions cause ‘harm’ but deciding what constitutes harm is an especially difficult and contentious topic]

I believe that there is nothing wrong with having  socially normal expectations. The idea of a persona to copy, adopt, adapt, build on, exaggerate and satirise is very valuable for many people.
I do, however, also believe that actually thinking any given individual fits that role is wrong. I do not disbelieve that certain genetic configurations are statistically more likely to be better at certain things (e.g. types of running) than others but statistics make sod all difference to individuals. It may be true that statistically men are physically stronger than women but that doesn’t mean that woman A is therefore weaker than man B or that their physical strengths determine what they enjoy doing. It is especially important that statistical probability and normalised roles are not allowed to dictate what someone can and cannot do; particularly if that role is thrust upon by virtue of their biology and not their choice. Furthermore, not only should we allow/encourage people to explore multiple roles and personas but we should be prepared to not let their apparent biology frame our judgement of them. A biological male in drag might be enjoying the clothes for their own sake, or the sensation of enacting female social persona, or wish to permanently adopt a female social role or wish to have a biologically female body – and we have no way of knowing without talking to that individual and nor should it matter.

And that is the reason all this is important – I have read a few things recently about trans individuals which argue that (for example) because some girls (who biologically present as XX) like traditionally (socially agreed) boyish things it is better to use their energies to encourage all biologically XX  people to acknowledge they might like masculine activities than it is to acknowledge that some people find their sense of their own body does not match with what is physically evident or that the wish to enact a male role neither requires you to want the ‘matching’ biology nor requires you to fulfil one variety of that social role for ever more.
Many traditionally butch lesbians take on a masculine-looking social role without wishing to change their biological sex and may in fact stridently champion their ownership of cunts and that is, and must be acknowledged as, different to adopting a gender neutral stance when raising children which does not equate their interests with their genitalia and it is also different to someone assigned female at birth who wishes to be recognised as a man but may still not want to adopt all the masculine traits society offers.
What I mean is just because we might want to change the way that society views gender  – or that we want roles to be unrestrictive – doesn’t mean we should be dismissive of the fact that they can be useful not just for those who naturally conform but also for those who want to experiment with something outside of their assigned role. We also need to acknowledge that some people have a very strong connection to a particular identity (regardless of biology or own ‘approval’ of that identity) and some people don’t have a strong feelings about it and still others shift in their connections to identity.
If it ain’t your body or body or your identity -shut up &  listen to the actual person.


[Addendum July 2017:
On a personal level I have never felt any strong connection to female social roles (some are alien, some I feel actively rejected by and some are ok) and only a mild connection to some male social roles but I am lucky enough that I have little or no dysphoria relating to my biology & am even sometimes happy with my body plus I am financially stable so I am able to wear almost anything and create my own identity as I go along.

Reading back through the above it is clear I was struggling to articulate something about race and about cultural appropriation – there is currently no evidence for “racial dysphoria” and cultural appropriation is a worryingly imperialistic issue but I don’t know that it is always going to be that simple.]



Each to their own

In my early twenties there were 2 key mantras in my life “An thou harm none do as thou wilt” and “Safe, Sane & Consensual” – as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to appreciate some of the interpretative difficulties that both of those propositions face [too many and various for this time of night] but there remains a fundamental truth that they embody and which needs to be applied to every part of life including beer choice…
If no one is getting hurt, and you aren’t being coerced then it is entirely your choice what you feel like doing right now.
That means drink if you want to drink, or don’t touch alcohol on thursdays, or only have sex with black men between 4 and 7 on sundays or whatever.  And more than that it mean no one should be criticising you for your decision not to drink alcohol or to drink.. shock horror Fosters… or to sleep with midgets for money or count your sexual partners on your bedposts.
I might [read: do] think that Fosters is worse than Satan’s urine flavour-wise and I might suggest that is bad for a lot of people’s health but do you know what, in the end actually if you want to drink it that isn’t my decision to make.

When it comes to choice of beverage I see a lot of snobbery going on where people are judged according to their drinks choices and it upsets me (it especially upsets the me who both buys £20 bottles of beer and £1.10 tinnies..) because your favourite ain’t necessarily right for everyone (e.g. why privilege peaty whiskies over briny ones..) but  to be honest I am more more worried about the pressure we still put on people to drink alcohol, or more alcohol
One of the worst things I see in my profession are the people pushed by their social group into “just one more” – people pressured into consuming alcohol for the sake of social ease. It leads to people drinking and driving, it leads to people getting ill or upset and it is not safe!
Second, though not far behind that, on my pet hates  is people being ridiculed and stigmatised for their choice of drink – now [fair disclosure] part of the reason this bugs me is that invariably the guy being torn to shreds is being accused of being girly or gay for not wanting x drink (which ya’know as a queer gal is kinda irksome) and this kind of bullying is Not Cool and not only do I worry because it can lead to people not being as safe as they should be and inhibiting their choices because of the power of alcohol but also it rather bugs me that someone gets to feel like they know better about what someone should put in their body..because weird though it sounds [e.g.] ‘you need to drink vodka or you are weak’ isn’t just emotional bullying when it comes to the kind of coercion, the buying it anyway and pushing and pushing til they drink it is the kind of mentality that leads to rape…. its what you want (or i think you should want), its the socially acceptable thing to do, if you don’t you are boring, rubbish, not my friend….etc etc.

Its not ok.

It is not ok to tell someone what they want to drink because it is their body and their choice; they shouldbe able to make their own decisions, to enjoy it and want it and not be too damaged by it long term… and I think any mentality that says otherwise is dangerous.

Shoulder Op

So the other day they went ahead and cut some holes in my shoulder and shaved a little bone out in order to give it more space to move. (Arthroscopic subacromial decompression & ACJ excision arthoplasty -if you are interested)
So now I am ambling round in a painkiller haze and trying to force my poor body to do the physio – it is not co-operating.

Firstly, the wounds are still slightly oozy – apparently they inject extra fluid to make things easier to see (and I think anti-coagulants) which means that my dressings require careful attention. Also it turns out that instead of making my shoulder not hurt, codeine makes me sleepy, cranky, weepy and yet oddly emotionally detached from the pain.
The problem with the fact that I am still in pain is that every one of the 5 different exercises that I am supposed to do 4 times a day is a mental battle where every instinct tells me not to force my body that high up the pain scale and I am drained from the effort.

I have other things to do at the moment godsdammit!

Springtime (for Hitler?)

There is something about this time of year that I struggle with.

I love that the world is erupting into blossom, our veg patch is taking shape and small creatures of all varieties are being born (including a brand new ‘monkey’ born to some very good friends who will be suffering the 3 of us as godparents).
I love that W & I have our legal anniversary at this time of year.
I love that this is a time of beginnings and hope.

But its hard.
Its hard in part because the anniversary of mum’s death is coming up (17 years this time around) and its hard in part because the annual beer festival in our area consumes so much of my time and energy.
Its hard because its a time of beginnings and hope for so many people – after the cold, dark, wet of winter I watch people who hadn’t noticed their moods dipping begin to lift and shine, I watch their projects become invigorated and their activity levels rise and I know that isn’t me. Don’t get me wrong the dank, drear days of winter grind heavy for me too but unlike 75% of the population the lift that springtime brings seems to somehow emphasise that my depression is here to stay. It is like the way that the 1st lift of anti-depressants gives some people the energy for suicide that they had been lacking only on a broader scale, and frankly it makes me miserable as hell.

This year I get to be extra mopey about it though. This year real life is having a bit of a dig just to check I’m paying attention. W’s mum has been ill for a long time but its getting very bad and she needs to go and look after her for a bit. We need to sort proper full-time care and benefits and stabilise her condition as much as possible. I have known this was coming for a while and I think we are prepared for the financial implications (though it might put back my hopes to get pregnant in the next year) but I can’t say I’m not cross that ‘fate’ has let it fall over our anniversary, mum’s anniversary and my shoulder op date – quite frankly I expect to win the lottery as compensation.

So if I post over the next month expect whinges about the UK benefits system, my father-in-law and health-care professionals in NI and gushing compliments to my wife’s strength, commitment, care and honesty and to B’s patience and support.


Another Legal System

Content Warning: Rape.

Nothing about it is pretty.
And recently its been on my mind, especially what goes on when it happens when you aren’t in your home country.
Like many (most?) people (especially women) I know several people who have been raped and more who have been sexually assaulted – the circumstances vary, the responses even more so, but each and every one of them has dealt not only with the initial violation but also the decisions about who to tell and what steps to take. Most of the people I know talk about it very little and almost none of them have taken legal action.

But a couple of years ago some who I love dearly was working in France when she raped. She does not speak French but she chose to report the attack and undergo the interviews and medical procedures involved in that. Do not for a second stop believing that this takes a phenomenal amount of courage in any circumstance – but to face it, in the first instance, alone and without language assistance?
Eventually, there was support from colleagues, an interpreter and a lawyer and someone was called to court to answer the accusation. In France, parts of the investigation are overseen by the prosecutor/judge and they have several stages of court appearances in order to determine whether to continue with the case. The initial court appearance involved her being questioned by the judge but the rapist promptly skipped town and indeed the country and the matter was left hanging. She finished working her contract, came back to the UK and trained to be a teacher.

But a month or so ago the guy in question resurfaced in France and was arrested. Because of the laws about how long he could be detained without being brought before a judge she was given an urgent summons to re-give her evidence and the only concession to her being a different country was that she could give it by video from near Calais rather than travel to the actual town.
Again, I was impressed by the determination that led her to apply for (and get) emergency time off from her new job and travel across the country to answer gruelling questions which she had already done once before.
This 2nd court session led to the French authorities deciding that they could hold him long enough to have a 3rd session a couple of weeks later – this one where they would face each other personally across a court room.
Which again she chose to do.

The case has got no further.
After this further ordeal, the judge decided that there was insufficient evidence to proceed to full trial. The victim was asked to contact the people she went out to the nightclub with (who were largely English & are now back in the UK) and ask them to send witness reports to her lawyer which may (or may not) be enough to open it again.
I was left horrified by the whole legal process. I knew it was bad, I knew it was hard. I know enough to know that actually the facts of her case mean that the odds were always against her but even with a level of vague professionalism the whole process was intensely painful even to me and I felt I had to share even though I cannot imagine what she felt.

Recently I heard it suggested that an inquisitorial system (which the French one is) might be more sensitive to women and children than the adversarial one (like UK) and I was hoping someone would explain to me in how…
I’d also like a little more clarification on why the repeated cross-examination of her statements in front of multiple court officials, different interpreters and the person who attacked her were necessary?

But most of all I still want to know how he could be so sure that he did nothing wrong?

I am not an Activist

I am not and never have been the person who goes to the rallies, I do not use my position of privilege to offer a platform for minority voices.
I have never started a petition or lobbied parliament. I don’t even blog about my politics very often.
I have to put my energy into being me and I don’t have the strength to do more but I have nothing but respect for the energy people put into that kind of fight (even when I don’t necessarily agree with their aims) and I am well aware that people with less resources than me, less physical and emotional stability than me try to make the world a better place and offer themselves up for causes I believe passionately in and a part of me is ashamed of my inactivity even as I know I can’t do it.

I am also not a person who shares much in the way of links to blog posts and petitions and political rants. The two are very much related.
Since I am not involved in the fight I do not know the path that it has taken to that step and whether that course of action is the right/better/only way forward. Since I am not involved in the fight I don’t want my voice to drown out the voices of those who are.
And most selfishly of all I don’t want to be that person – the kind of person who jumps on bandwagons without understanding all the issues, the kind of person who nags people to be do-gooders with the press of a button without standing up there doing it, the kind of person who thinks liking a page on facebook is all the effort that they need to put in.
I choose to try and lead by example in my sensitivity to other people’s needs and rights and I hope that my comparative silence means that people will take a moment to stop and listen when I feel I must speak out.

That shoulder thing

My left shoulder started causing me trouble quite a while ago now… about three years ago I guess… and intermittently I try to do something about it.

About Aug/Sept last year I got myself another referral to physio (my 3rd I think) and a promise of some more attention. The local policy appears to be approximately 6 sessions of physiotherapy before they need something new.

This time we were able to make some progress on the underlying issues – above and beyond any basic hypermobility (which was not discussed) the possibility of impingement was raised for the first time (not sure why it wasn’t considered before).
Although I did have a course of acupuncture again, I found that the deep tissue massage and heat treatment were more effective for pain relief and for the first time the suggested strengthening exercises seemed to make a difference – although it was only at the end of the course of physio that they suggested a resistance band to work with.
I was pleased then that I was taking less painkillers and feeling less stiff but determined that this time I would not simply wait another year for another course of physio to prescribed when inevitably all my coping mechanisms broke down and delighted that the physiotherapist was in a position to refer me to a shoulder consultant.
Yup after 3 years I actually went to see someone who specialises in shoulders!

The clinic was clearly quite full of people; some having the rehabilitation after breakages examined, some with sports injuries and a few who probably had arthritis but all cranky and bemused by the self-assessment forms we had to fill in and all sat waiting in the over-hot, loud seating by a hospital cafe.
They sent me (and I think everyone) for an x-ray before letting us see the consultant. The only other time I have had an x-ray that hurt was when I broke my collarbone aged 12 & everything hurt – but putting my arm in that position hurts that is one of the reasons I was there! Then after a series of mobility and strength tests they also did an ultrasound and I was offered something approaching diagnosis.
I was rather troubled by the mobility tests – my range of motion is quite good (its not like the knee that just wouldn’t straighten) but a) that is largely down to extensive physiotherapy and regular exercise and b) it hurts.
I understand that they need to check whether there appears to be some kind of blockage etc but I wonder at what point I am supposed to say ‘please the more of these we do the worse it gets’, I didn’t get the impression that he heard me when I said yes I can get my arm into this position but in my daily life I would avoid it wholeheartedly because it really hurts. And yes, I know it was excruciatingly hot in there, but some of that sweat was from tension and pain.

Still, there was something visible in the ultrasound – I liked the ultrasound; the gel was cooling, the process was not painful and the machine looked pretty nifty. I would really have like to have seen the pictures though.
But, what the consultants could see were lesions from an impingement (which sounds like they are infectious – they aren’t) and what it means is that the bones are essentially rubbing together – hence physio is supposed to strengthen the muscles which hold them apart. They sent me a letter with the technical details which in theory tell a Dr which bits are causing the trouble but didn’t entirely help me work out quite what my shoulder was doing to itself even with the wonders of Google.

So after several hours of waiting and prodding and poking I was offered some ways forward. The plan went as follows: a steroid injection, more physio, a check-up a couple of months down the line, and then possibly another steroid injection and possibly surgery or both…

Steroid injections hurt!

Actually I might stress that some more they really really hurt! According to my letter, there was anaesthetic in the mix as well as the steroids which might explain why I was able to walk home but were definitely not noticeable enough.  [Warning: do not read this next paragraph if you are squeamish about needles]
Part of the problem is that when you stick a needle into a joint you can feel it go in and then you can feel it move around. It honestly felt like it was grinding. I am not a wimp, I am ok with giving blood and getting injections generally, I am used to being in pain but this pain was enough to make me think I was going to pass out. The nurse brought me water and I sat with my head down for ten minutes or so – waiting I guess for the anaesthetic to kick in – at which point the consultant checked I could move my arm (and yes moving it over my shoulder was at that point easier) and sent me home.
Gradually, the stiffness set in. I definitely had a steroid flare up and co-codamol was not touching it. By the following morning I couldn’t raise my arm at all, I could only dress myself in small stages to recover from the intense pain, I couldn’t carry anything, I couldn’t even sit quietly without pain. I was a mess.
Still this too passed and two days later the pain had subsided enough for me to feel normal again. I’d like to think that the following two weeks were noticeably better in terms of ease of pain-free movement but I’m not convinced. To be brutally honest they are going to have to offer me some better improvement than that to make the injection worth going through again… As I type the shoulder is aching and complaining and I am still waiting for the referral for more physio to be acted on.


Resolutions 2013 reprise

So its June now and that must mean its about time to reassess my goals for the year.
As might be expected I am not wholly pleased…

  1. Weight – 12 stone or less
    Actually this is one area I have started making progress in. W has started a low GI diet and it is helping me drop closer to my target.
  2. Exercise – 5x brisk 20 min walks/ week; 1x 30 mins swimming/week; 20 sit-ups 6x/week; 5mins shoulder stretches everyday & 5 mins knee stretches everyday
    Sigh. Such good intentions- such regular failure. I do manage to walk most days of the week but if I manage one set of sit-ups and one of either knee or shoulder exercises per week I am doing well. I am still failing at swimming
  3. Mindfulness – restart some meditation practices
  4. Housework – This will also involve a schedule, scrubbing & hoovering
    Um I do housework… but it remains ridiculously disorganised and I still have managed to get back to my 2 house rota
  5. Conferences & Publication – 2 Conference papers, 2 + articles, monograph proposal…
    I have given 1 paper & rewritten it to the extent I let some other people read it. The next paper will be this weekend. I started writing an article but don’t think I have written fast enough to get it in the journal I wanted so may have to do something else with it. Feeling guilty about not having submitted a monograph proposal though
  6. Job – at least 1 application per month
    I have applied for 2 fellowships and 3 other jobs so far this year. Both fellowships were no gos, neither of the office jobs even asked me to interview and I’m not very hopeful about the brewery job either. Sigh.
  7. Holidays – At least 1 new Munro (with B?) & 1 city-break with W
    So far the 3 of us went to Cornwall together and I have a hol in Scotland (with mountains) booked with B. Finding schedule/time to do something positive with W is proving harder
  8. Irish – Start learning to speak it..
    Um occasionally I think I have learnt a new word – but actually I feel guilty about neglecting my greek and latin so am going back to them a bit more often

On Angelina Jolie & Breast Cancer

Like Ms Jolie my mother died of cancer (technically a secondary cancer that spread from the original breast cancer). She was a few days shy of her 46th birthday when she died after 4 or 5 years of fighting the illness.
I know that because of this statistically my chances of contracting cancer are approximately double that of the rest of the population but I have never been tested for the faulty gene that Ms Jolie carries. Partly, this is because I’m neither very old nor a mother and partly its because my mother is the only member of my family to have had such an early onset cancer.
Her elder sister has fairly recently been diagnosed with breast cancer much later in life [this probably means that despite the location it was an entirely different type of cancer] and my Father’s aunt also has cancer but of a different type.

Nonetheless, I have been thinking about what a genetic risk of cancer means for me and what I might do about it. After my step-mother was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer and with my 30th birthday fast approaching my father has recently asked me to talk to my Doctor about screening. It seems a big step to consider what options the NHS might have for me with regard to earlier and more frequent tests (not normally offered to lower risk younger women) and an even bigger step to consider both genetic testing and a mastectomy. Yet, I want to be responsible and to think about the impact of my health on the people I care about – if I could prevent my loved ones watching me go through debilitating treatments and potentially dying 20 odd years before my time should I do it..?
My immediate answer must be yes. I wouldn’t wish my childhood experiences of cancer on anyone. But..
(You knew there was a but right?)

I’m not quite 30 and I don’t have children. At this stage in my life the idea of having children and possibly breast-feeding them is still more important than a statistical chance. I don’t think my breasts are the arbiter of my femininity or that I am less me without them (though I imagine it would be a shock to the system) and I don’t think that breast-feeding is a sign of true motherhood but I do think that personally I’d rather try for kids before messing with the status quo. Furthermore, I’m not ready to deal with the potential hormonal and emotional repercussions of such testing and surgery whilst kids are still a possibility. If (like Jolie) I already had children perhaps I would be more concerned with their future and how much time I could offer them but right now I am well aware that the knowledge of genetic issues combined with the physical effects of mastectomy might be enough to stop me from ever having children and I don’t want that to be the reason for our choice.
If I have a mastectomy I want it to be after we have children – and if I test positive for the gene, removal of the ovaries is also a consideration – but after kids.
Maybe that is selfish. Maybe its naive.  But the fear of not being enough of a mother because I don’t have one to guide me can’t be enough of a reason to cut out a part of the mother I want to be. I would – will – actively protect my family through surgery if necessary but I can’t give up on making the family stronger because I am afraid of statistics.